Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

At the end of the Wikipedia article on Jerusalem Colophon, it reads (regarding whether a text was written in Jerusalem vs. Greece),

According to Caspar René Gregory it would be possible that the manuscript Tischendorfianus III was written and corrected in Jerusalem.

This is probably because on page 360 in the cited reference, Gregory wrote,

It would be possible that this manuscript itself was thus written and corrected in Jerusalem.

Gregory should have written

Thus, it might be true that the manuscript was written and corrected in Jerusalem.

(He could have been mixed up. Although born in the U.S., he was the German army's oldest WWI volunteer.)

Two questions arise:

  1. Should the article's last sentence be revised to a more-direct form?

  2. If I make this change, what is the justification? It seems weak to say it sounds bad, and vague or perhaps wrong to say it misuses tense, case, or subjunctive mood. Is there a proper grammar-based explanation for changing it?

share|improve this question
    
@waiwai933, thank you for insetting the quotations and adjusting some paragraph breaks for clarity. I've changed your "in regards to" phrase that replaced my "re", and which I'd never say or write, to "regarding". I've also re-inserted the information that reference is to page 360. –  jwpat7 Aug 14 '11 at 20:35
    
I don't know the grammar rule but will add that "it is possible that" is an alternate correct-sounding substitution that means the same thing. –  Matthew Frederick Aug 14 '11 at 20:51
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

"Would be" is in the subjunctive mood, which means that it depends on something that may or may not have happened. In the original, it's possible that he's debating whether or not that's true. However, in the Wikipedia article, there is no reference that I see to an unknown possibility. As such, I think it makes more sense to replace "would be possible" with "is possible".

You'd have to say "would be possible" if it were this sentence, though:

"It would be possible that the manuscript … was written … in Jerusalem if the author lived in Jerusalem."

That said, we're splitting hairs about the original.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 for "splitting hairs". If OP righteously goes and edits the Wikipedia article, the original author might reasonably feel slightly exasperated. –  FumbleFingers Aug 15 '11 at 1:16
    
@FumbleFingers, the issue you raise of an author being exasperated by a righteous act is perhaps too subtle for me to comprehend. In any case, Wikipedia edit pages warn writers, "If you do not want your writing to be edited, used, and redistributed at will, then do not submit it here." –  jwpat7 Aug 15 '11 at 21:47
add comment

In cases where there is a direct quote you can't just change the author's words directly. This is where [sic] would be appropriate:

According to Caspar René Gregory "It would be possible [sic] that the manuscript
Tischendorfianus III was written and corrected in Jerusalem."

I put it in quotes, as it should be since it is a direct quote. You can explain in an after note that the context indicates the author meant "It is possible that the manuscript..."

share|improve this answer
2  
I really don't think it's necessary to add a note explaining what the author meant. Even if you are critical of the phrasing, the meaning is perfectly clear to all. –  FumbleFingers Aug 15 '11 at 1:18
    
@FumbleFingers, what the sentence means is muddied somewhat by the subjunctive construction being incomplete. The reader may be left asking, "Would be possible ... if what?". "The meaning is perfectly clear" does not excuse bad grammar. –  jwpat7 Aug 15 '11 at 21:57
1  
I didn't say it was necessary, I said he could. The purpose of the explanation would be to explain that the original context clarified the error. It seems unlikely on the face, that the sentence is correct. However, I suppose at some time in the future someone could invent a time machine, go back and encourage the manuscript's author to move to Jerusalem. In that case "It would be possible that the [manuscript] was written in Jerusalem." Perhaps though we should discount that as a realistic understanding. :-) –  Fraser Orr Aug 15 '11 at 23:44
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.